Managing internal migration in modern China: Regional interests and forced removal, 1949–2010s

Bryan Winter, University of Texas at El Paso


This thesis explores how the People's Republic of China (PRC) has attempted to halt internal migration, particularly rural-to-urban migration, in order to maintain socio-political control, and how by the mid-1980s migrant laborers from the countryside had unintentionally created conflicts between authorities from different regions of the country who were either for or against large-scale migration. With the advent of a more open market system that was created after the economic reforms began in 1978, we see that the migrants' movements exposed the differing economic situations of the wealthier coastal provinces and the poor inland ones. This, in turn, led to the coastal provinces' emphasis on maintaining order in the cities which uncontrolled migration interrupted, while the new market system encouraged the poor inland provinces to intentionally export their migrant labor towards the coast. Additionally, my research shows how over a period of roughly 60 years the PRC has forcefully removed and repatriated migrants back to the countryside as a means of dealing with peasant in-migration. However, I argue that over time the motivations for expelling migrants from the cities have changed from the intention of protecting limited resources and safeguarding socialist development in the 1950s and 1960s to the priority of protecting the cities' image today. Despite the huge impact migrant labor has had on the rise of contemporary China, the complexities of controlling such a large movement of people, and the reaction given to it by urban authorities in the PRC are still strongly rooted in the limited freedom of movement of the pre-reform era. This work adds to the knowledge of how internal migration is at times aggressively dealt with, and how migration is often a result of rapid economic change.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Winter, Bryan, "Managing internal migration in modern China: Regional interests and forced removal, 1949–2010s" (2012). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI1533258.